Some 500 years ago, the Spanish came to the central highlands of Mexico looking for silver and gold. Their settlements grew into bustling towns and cities, some of which still retain their colonial character in present day. Among these cities is the charmingly quaint Guanajuato, which has long attracted discerning tourists who come to Mexico looking for something other than the popular beach scenes.
During the past several years, the city has gradually crept into the minds of retirees and young expats who are looking to make property investments for their permanent or vacation homes. Property prices, once considered extremely affordable, have seen a sharp rise as bargain hunters snap up houses for astonishingly less than what they would cost in overexposed places such as Cabo San Lucas.
Guanajuato city: a snapshot
Marked by its labyrinth of winding, steep, cobblestone roads, colonial architecture and small, manageable size, Guanajuato is a friendly city of roughly 80,000 people. Its streets do not follow a grid layout, its locals don’t speak much English and it is not overrun by tourists; these characteristics are all part of what makes this tiny city attractive to those who want to avoid the stereotypical Mexican coastal experience.
“The climate is spring-like all year round. Other than the rainy season, which goes from May to September, it is a paradise climate. Also, it is a landlocked, geographically central area from which to stage your continuing expat adventures,” said Doug Bower, author of A Walk Through México’s Crown Jewel: A Guanajuato Travelogue.
“Guanajuato’s main attraction is the architecture and the style of the city. Its actually built on a creek, it has an old Spanish baroque atmosphere around its streets. What our clients like the most about Guanajuato is that it’s a real Mexican city, it’s not like going to a resort in the Caribbean or Pacific coast,” said Bernardo Calzada of Casas Eugenia, a real estate company located in the city.
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It has a large pedestrian zone, which makes it pleasant to walk around downtown, according to Calzada. “Here in Guanajuato you have to walk, you have to push yourself to speak some Spanish, and people will always be open to listen, understand, and help you find your way.”
Guanajuato is home to one of the country’s well-known religious shrines, Cristo Rey del Cubilete. Every January, hundreds and thousands of pilgrims arrive at the city on horseback to celebrate The Epiphany at the shrine. The city also co-hosts Expresión en Corto International Film Festival with nearby San Miguel de Allende. The largest festival of its kind in Mexico, the festival screens some 400 films during the last week of July, all free of charge to the public.
October brings Festival Internacional Cervantino, an art event, to the city. During the Medieval Festival, which is held twice each year, in March and December, townsfolk decorate their city in Spanish village style, dress in era-appropriate fashion and play instruments from that time.
Guanajuato real estate
For a while San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato’s larger neighbor, was the only one that got property buyers’ attention. However, buyers have recently begun trickling into Guanajuato as the prices in San Miguel rose out of their range. “San Miguel de Allende had been the place to buy property. In fact, it was not uncommon for a couple to come for a week’s vacation and leave with a new home in their hands. The prices there have driven the market here,” said Bower, who is also a longtime resident of the city.
The real estate market in Guanajuato lacks homes that meet international buyers’ standards, according to Calzada. The paltry supply of such properties makes available homes expensive, but prices are still reasonable when compared to other areas of the country, especially those on the coast.
While the advantages of investing in Guanajuato include its obvious attractiveness to tourists from around the world, its location and steep streets can be limitations, according to Casas Eugenia. The city suffers from bouts of traffic jams but the government is investing in public transit. However, retirees, who make up a bulk of international property buyers in Mexico, may find the steep roads of Guanajuato hard to navigate if they are not in good health.
Still, residential property prices in some areas of the city are rising by 15 to 20 percent per year. “Six years ago we looked at what we thought was a house of ‘mansion’ proportions. It was selling for $75,000. With a little work you could have had a money-maker by renting rooms. Now, something like that would be untouchable for all but the wealthy or someone who could get investment partners,” said Bower. “Now, small and very dumpy looking houses are going for more than $200,000.”
Within the next five years, Guanajuato expects an expansion in the type of property the city offers, according to Calzada. This will give international buyers more choices, further encouraging them to invest in the city.
“I anticipate the demographic to change rapidly. Moving to central Mexico used to be for retirees wanting to find a cheaper place to make their dollars stretch. This was true of [nearby] San Miguel, but the popularity too quickly altered the market’s demographics and now it’s the rich who can afford housing there. The same is rapidly happening in Guanajuato,” said Bower, who has authored several books on moving to Mexico and learning Spanish. He said he worries about how the influx of international buyers could affect the unique atmosphere of the city that makes it such a wonderful place.